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Review: Railroad Tycoon II Gold Edition

By: Kirk Hiner


Genre: Strategy/Sim
Format: CD
Developer: PopTop Software, Westlake Interactive
Publisher: Gathering of Developers
Minimum Requirements: 132 MHz PowerPC, System 7.5.3, 16MB RAM, 130MB hard disk space (some scenarios require 250MB), 4X CD ROM, DrawSprocket and QuickTime 3 (included on the CD)
Network Feature: No
3Dfx Support: RAVE and Glide
Retail Price: $44.89
Availability: Out Now


Every man wants a railroad set for Christmas. Perhaps it all started when his own parents got him one as a child, and he spent an hour watching his father assemble it in the basement, interlocking joints and carefully planning bridges. This would go on for days, and it sometimes took a week of this before the child realized that his father was never going to relinquish control. Sure, he'd get to see it occasionally as it progressed, when company was over and the sheet was lifted to garner a few compliments. But try to sneak down there during the day and accidentally upset a fake tree and Daddy would snap, threatening all sorts of bodily harm and...

Anyway, most of us can't wait to have our own sons and buy them a train set for us to continue the tradition.

Well, put away the superglue, and nail the plywood back over the windows in the garage. PopTop Software's Railroad Tycoon 2 Gold Edition offers trains galore, and the opportunity to manipulate time and money. Who could ask for more?

The basic concept of Railroad Tycoon has been described before, so I won't go into too much detail. You start a company, use the cash to build rails, stations, and buy trains, then you carry the loads to other stations at which they're in demand...a fairly simple yet addictive "Sim" concept. So the problem with all sequels and/or expansion packs is how do you improve to make it worth buying? PopTop answered this question well; more of the same, and something new...which, upon reflection, is sort of the usual answer. What else could it be? Change everything, but add nothing?

The "more of the same" means the ability to reproduce famous existing routes and take on the historic challenges that faced the first railroad tycoons. (Do you suppose they referred to themselves as tycoons? Did they feel hurt when other people call them that? Does Mrs. Gates call Bill "monopolist" around the house?). You have the same technology available at the same historically accurate time, and access to the same tycoons. (Ah, who cares what they called themselves?)

The "something new" adds a dimension worth investigation if you found the first game interesting, or even if you tried it and found it repetitive. Not only do you have access to more modern and futuristic trains, but some of the new scenarios eliminate the focus on merely acquiring money by conquering distance and time. Two of my favorite new scenarios are Seattle and a group that I'll called the War Scenarios.

In Seattle, home of the recently mighty, now hapless Seattle Seahawks, the traditional formula of hauling various goods from city to city is exchanged for the more precise task of building an above-ground light rail passenger system in the 1990s. They still add some specific locations you must connect for the bronze, silver, and gold victories, but choosing cargo is not required and the real task is choosing the best path from one major hub to another. Sometimes it pays to bulldoze a couple of buildings to create a direct line between heavily populated areas. I also found that large stations were helpful in creating hubs and eliminating the many stops required by truly efficient light rail systems. A significant tip: connect to the airport quickly.

Additionally, a young software company starts up and offers you a new type of train as an incentive to connect to their locale. The train that the unnamed Sim-Microsoft offers if you meet their challenge is what you would expect: expensive, slow, and delivered after the deadline. (Or maybe I merely imagined that last part, filling in missing details based on previous experience.) I did not buy the train, so I'm only guessing that it also broke down frequently.

The War Scenarios are a bit like the board game "Risk." They involve carrying war cargo--munitions, troops, and weapons--to locations where they are badly needed. In one scenario you must monitor neighboring territories to keep your troop level high enough to fend off the enemy based on a formula they provide. In other scenarios, there are specific real-time deadlines by which you must have brought enough supplies to besieged cities to help them survive. After using limited supplies to rebuild bombed tracks in one World War II scenario, I found myself making charts and jotting notes and talking to Winston Churchill for support and advice. Well, okay, I'm lying about the notes. But I was interested in these in a way I never was in belly dancing or simply turning a profit in the original Railroad Tycoon. These scenarios are more addictive than any previous "get rich" goal. Perhaps it was defeating the Nazis that engaged me.

So, I like the game, but not without some minor reservations. First of all, and I'm pretty sure it's not just the English major in me, I found the typographical errors a bit distracting. I expect them in some toss-off shareware game, but they are frustrating in a game that was otherwise so well developed. Second, the interfaces are inconsistent. A specific gripe: when you view an industry you are thinking about buying, clicking "OK" means you are done viewing, but you do not want to make the purchase. On the Attempt Merger screen, "OK" means you want to make the purchase. A Hiner-Certified Perfect Game would have consistent interfaces to prevent unintended 3:00 a.m. merger attempts. (Of which a few have been successful, I report with mild incredulity.) Finally, if you build a station, then attach electric rails to it, you must build the new rails over the entire length of the station's track, a step that does not have to happen if you attach regular track. This difference is not explained in either manual, and my first electric train never left the station.

Yet despite these issues, Railroad Tycoon II Gold Edition is a fine purchase. If it doesn't satisfy your railroad urge, it's time to call the old man out and take back your first train. Maybe sometimes a train is more than a train. Sometimes it's a phallic symbol that you need to reclaim to conquer your fear of being the number two man in your girlfriend's life. Don't ask me. I'm no psychoanalyst, and my daddy was a railroad man. Well, actually he was a clothing salesman, and he now we works at a sporting goods store, but he rode a train once. I think. I really don't know.


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November 25, 2015

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